Parental advice

by North of Boston

We Totebaggers are full of good, prudent advice. But what advice of yours have your children actually taken? If they didn’t take your advice on something, how did it turn out? (i.e., did the outcome make you think, “Well, they proved me wrong on that one”, or did it make you think, “I told you so!”) If you had to rank all the pieces of advice that you give your kids, what are the top two or three that you hope they follow, even if they disregard everything else?

And on the other side of the generational divide, what advice that your parents gave you are you particularly glad you took or did not take? What advice do you regret taking or not taking?

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Plus, this from Louise:

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44 thoughts on “Parental advice

  1. Here are the three pieces of advice that I hope my kids follow, even if they disregard everything else:

    1. If you think there is something wrong with you, physically or mentally, trust your intuition, and see a doctor. Depression runs on on my side of the family, so pay particular attention to your mental health. Do not suffer in silence, thinking you can “tough it out.” There is so much help out there that is available; please, please seek it out.

    2. Don’t do drugs. Period. Alcoholism runs on your father’s side of the family, so be very careful with alcohol as well, if you choose to drink. There are few things that will make your life, or the life of your future spouse or children, more miserable than addiction.

    3. Don’t put up with any amount of physical or emotional abuse. If anyone hits you, even once, leave immediately, and never look back. Don’t stay in a relationship (personal, professional, or otherwise) in which you are belittled or degraded. Dad and I have tried to model for you what it looks like to disagree, or even argue, with someone without being abusive to them.

    So, in a nutshell: Take care of your health, stay sober, and don’t tolerate abuse.

  2. The one thing from my dad is “If you don’t ask, the answer is no.”

    To my kids, a big one I’ve tried to drill in is “You’re much more likely to regret the things you don’t do than the things you do.”

  3. I honestly don’t remember any specific parental advice. I recall there being more unspoken expectations than actual advice.

    Tough topic for a post-SB Monday!

  4. I’ve used the two DD highlights frequently enough.

    The other ones that they all have taken to heart are:
    “Sometimes ‘do nothing’ is the right response.”

    and, related to the above

    “Everything you say can and will be use against you.”

    On the latter, and as I related on the “charging your kids rent” thread, DS1 got a new phone last week. I said “OK, let me look at the bill and I’ll tell you how much of it I/we will cover each month.” Well, he just kept wanting to pick at the details…upgrade fee, amortized cost of the phone, monthly access, etc. And I kept saying “Let me look at the next bill…” Finally, tired of this I said “everything you say….”

    Then it dawned on him. His response was “so you’re saying the more I keep talking the more I’m going to have to pay each month?” Uhhh, yeah.

  5. Well, I’ll try to focus on the correct advice Mom gave me. “Everything you learn will come in handy at some point.” Now I’m sure that can’t be entirely true, but it’s been surprisingly true. Everything from how to tie knots to how Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal have been bits of information I’ve used.

    Granted, I was using them to impress boys, but that was useful at the time.

    Other stuff has come in handy for work, for getting the point of jokes, for knowing how to get along with people, and so on.

  6. “Everything you say can and will be use against you.”

    Similarly, “Least said, soonest mended” is advice that I should have followed more. The times I did, I was glad.

  7. This one was big: “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answer to.” I used that back on Mom several times.

  8. For baseball fans: “Sometimes the best throw is the one not made.”

    Often applies in real life as: “some things are better left unsaid”

    I immediately notice the commonality of doing/saying less, reacting deliberately vs immediately.

  9. Good points, NoB! Denver, I also agree with your ‘regrets’ advice to your kids.

    The two pieces of advice that I vividly remember my parents giving and me *not* following were (1) Don’t have sex and (2) Don’t move in with your boyfriend (now DH). Actually (1) was illustrated by the time I was home sick from school in HS, and my mom rented a few movies for me to watch, including “Top Gun”. We were both watching it and during the sex scene she just shook her head and said “Bad, bad, bad!” This was hilarious to me at the time (I think I was 15) and is still hilarious today IMO!

  10. Yeah, Mom thought I should avoid sex before marriage, but entirely for practical reasons. “Why would he buy the cow if he can get the milk free?”. “You’re just ruining your market value.” I tried a couple of times to explain that market conditions had changed, but she didn’t believe a word of it.

  11. What has worked with my kids so far: The harder you work, the smarter you get. This is the opposite of how I was raised, but I see it in my kids, and it’s the primary reason I worried about DD’s waterbug personality and two-north-poles-of-two-magnets aversion to focusing on difficult things. And the primary reason I have been so relieved over the past year or so as she has grown into herself and started to stick with stuff until she figures it out. I think she has started to get it, too. She has spent the whole year so far b*tching about how hard her econ teacher’s tests are, and how he won’t grade on a curve, and how she should have taken the easy one-semester class, etc. And then she texted me that they did a practice AP and she got a 5 and was all excited. And she was forced to admit that his hard quizzes seemed to be paying off. ;-)

    The other one is DD’s if you don’t ask, you won’t get. I have been making DD speak up for herself for years on that principle, much to her great annoyance, but that also seems to have sunk in.

    What proved me wrong: “You need to study a lot for the SAT.” Seemed obvious to me, as DD has never been an intuitive test-taker and has been known to get overwhelmed, go deer-in-headlights, and shut down. And it would absolutely have been true for the SAT. But I had no clue that the ACT was so different, and even less clue that it clicked so well with her way of thinking, and she did just fine with only a practice test or two. So my new “life lesson” is “try them both and see which one fits better.” ;-)

    What I wish my dad had told me explicitly many years before he did: The value of staying active. It wasn’t until maybe 10 years ago that he was telling me the story of watching his stepdad trying to play in a softball league, and not even being able to run to second without being completely out of breath, and needing a cigarette between innings, and all that, and how it just made him resolve never to be like that. I sort of felt the pressure to “healthy” from him and my stepmom (which came through more as “thin” vs. “healthy and active”), but he never told me why, so I just assumed that it was about my appearance vs. my lifelong well-being.

    The lesson I internalized but now disagree with (to a degree”): “Go to the best college you can get into, we’ll figure out how to pay for it.” I am extremely glad my mom pushed me to look at excellent colleges, and in particular SLACs that were both rigorous and off-center, where I fit better. But I did not go to the “best” one that I was admitted to, nor the most expensive, and I have no regrets. So while we have been saving hard to be able to offer DD the ability to go anywhere, I have focused the search for “fit” over “name,” and I’ve made her aware of the financial tradeoffs from her various choices (e.g., spend the entire 529 on college vs. save some for med school/grad school).

  12. “some things are better left unsaid”

    Oh man, one of my kids in particular is a master of this, and I could learn from HIM.

  13. My Mom’s advice was to think about my age at marriage and not wait too long if I wanted kids. She was thinking more of complications arising out of increased maternal age. She was an educated working woman herself, so she understood the time line of education, career etc.
    “Market conditions have changed” – yeah, I am still searching for suitable advice to give my kids. They seem to be quietly strong willed, so I suspect they will find a path that makes them happy.

  14. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answer to.”

    I find this one useful in parenting and at work. Also at work – there are definitely times when it is best to ask for forgiveness vs. permission.

    The one thing that my mom pushed more than anything was never to start smoking. She was a bit more look the other way about other things – boys, curfews, drinking, etc (not that I was such a rebel that any of those were causing any major issues). Was not a helicopter parent in any way, shape or form. But man, the one time I came home smelling like smoke, she read me the riot act. (I hadn’t even been smoking – other people had.) She also was very, ver adamant about not drinking & driving. Really – in retrospect – those were the two things that would have had the longest term impact on my life had I made poor choices.

    My parents also have never been very overbearing, but they pushed hard that I should make sure to not let health insurance lapse between my college graduation & signing up for insurance with my first FT job and for signing up for a 401(k) immediately at least to the match.

    @L – That’s funny about Top Gun. I remember watching “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld with my mom when I was in HS and being absolutely mortified but not wanting to make it an even bigger thing by leaving the room.

  15. @LFB – My mom has never outwardly pushed staying active (or being thin), but seeing her vs my dad and IL’s just reinforces the need in my mind. She has never been an athlete or particularly athletic, but her slow & steady habits of walking, swimming laps, going to yoga or tai chi once a week, and doing the old lady water aerobics classes really makes a difference – especially now that she is in her mid-late 60’s.

    So that’s a lead by example thing. Her mom was the same way – I always did exercise classes on PBS with her when I was a kid, and she was going to exercise classes regularly at the senior center and then through the CCC into her 90’s. Her quality of life was very good until the very end.

  16. Rhett – not even! My parental great-grandparents came over in the early 1900s, but my mom’s ancestors have been here since the 1700s.

    RMS – my mom used that SAME EXACT LINE on me, and it was 2002! FFS!

  17. “try them both and see which one fits better.”

    My advice is to try one first, and if you get good enough scores, don’t bother with the other.

    Up until this year, the advice would’ve been to take the SAT first, since you’d need to take it anyway to move from NMSF to NMF, and only take the ACT if you’re not happy with your SAT scores. But starting with the c/o 2020, the NMSC accepts ACT scores for that.

  18. We just explained the milk/cow expression to DD and on of her friends. This gen thinks they know everything, but they didn’t “get it” until I spelled out the whole thing with the cow.

    I hope that DD will listen to our advice about photos that she posts. We’ve been emphasizing this to her since she got access to an itouch, and then instagram, snap chat etc. We keep trying to tell her that we can’t fix problems that might develop from photos that she posts and sends to anyone via text/email etc. We stress that the photos are out there forever. Even though she gets most of her news from a daily snap feed, I am hoping that the recent yearbook stories prove my point. We really stress that photos should never (EVER) be sent to someone unless you’re fully dressed. This is a big problem with girls and they think that they can “trust” their friends and partners.

    I think (hope) that she is listening to me about drinking and drugs. I know she doesn’t always listen or believe me, but I lucked out because several of her friends have vomited at parties etc. She seems to be learning from observation even if she isn’t listening to me.

    As for advice from my parents…. I incorporated their tips about driving and I still do certain things because of their advice when I am driving. For example, I struggled with parallel parking on the left in a tight spot. This is an issue for a kid that learns to drive in NYC! My parents had some good tricks that I still use when I need to get into tight spots. This was long before cameras and parking assist. My mom taught me how to drive in snow/ice, and I can almost hear her voice when I want to slam on the brakes if there is ice. She reminded me over and over to turn into a slide instead of slamming on the brakes.

    BTW, I think my mom is a bad driver now that she is getting older. She knows that I won’t drive with her any more, but she did teach me almost everything I know about driving.

  19. I have told my kids that I will always help them *except* when they have done something so stupid that a parent cannot help, and then they are on their own. Examples, sending nude photos or asking for them (which is probably worse morals-wise), drinking and driving and having an accident or getting pulled over drunk, anything having to do with illegal drugs, shoplifting, vandalism, etc. I think they should know that there are some things that are so bad that mom and dad will not be able to help and that they will have to pay the price.

    Also, always good to remind the younger kids that old texts can be retrieved with a search warrant. Texts never go away, so be very careful what you text.

  20. My mother, who was from the Old Country, gave me the same advice that L’s and RMS’ mothers gave them about sex, but she also added that if I had sex before marriage, I would bring shame upon the family. I didn’t follow that bit of advice, and as far as I know, the family was not shamed.

  21. My favorite answer card in Cards Against Humanity is “Poor life choices” because it answers so many questions. I have been tempted to pull it from the deck and put it on the fridge as a subtle reminder not to be the one who makes poor life choices.

  22. “there are some things that are so bad that mom and dad will not be able to help..”

    Or will not be willing to help, from a moral perspective.

  23. One that was used on me that stuck with me and I used on my kids: “the car you are driving can be a lethal weapon”

    On driving in a residential neighborhood/crowded streets. “Remember the one kid you cannot see between cars, behind snow piles, etc and drive so you can ALWAYS stop in time”

  24. When I was young, my mother told me that after I got married, I should stop working. However, by the time I went to college, she had seen enough of her peers get left by their husbands that she did a total 180. She started lecturing me about how it was very important for a woman to have a good career and her own money.

    Interestingly, my father, who was also from the Old Country, always wanted me to have my own career and my own money. He was totally fine having his wife (my mom) be financially dependent on him, but he was sort of horrified at the idea of my being dependent on some other guy.

  25. “The one thing that my mom pushed more than anything was never to start smoking. She was a bit more look the other way about other things – boys, curfews, drinking, etc . . . She also was very, ver adamant about not drinking & driving. “

    What I like about this advice is not just the validity of it, but by looking away on the other things, she made it even more clear the import of the advice she did give.

    A big part of giving good advice, beyond the advice itself, is the way in which it is delivered. I.e., no crying wolf, picking battles, etc.

  26. One piece of advice I picked up from our pediatrician, and repeated many times to our kids: “It is more important to be nice than to be smart.”

  27. Finn – yes, agree, some things we would not be wiling to help with, hence having to pay the price. The subtle message is there: do not be a bad person.

    Fred reminded me of another one. My drivers ed teacher always said that if a ball rolled in to the street to expect a child to follow it. Within months of getting my license, that exact scenario happened and 17 yo me thought, “Wow, he was right!” So I tell my kids that story.

  28. The one thing that my mom pushed more than anything was never to start smoking

    My father had a terrible time quitting smoking. Nevertheless, my sister smoked for years.

    Bizarrely, my mother’s attitude was, “Sometimes you have to have a cigarette in certain social groups in order to prove you’re not chicken.” She apparently smoked very occasionally when she was on the high school yearbook staff, because it was necessary to fit in.

    I tried a couple of cigs in junior high with my friend Teresa. That was the end of that.

  29. @Finn – Yes exactly! There were only a few things that my parents were really hard nosed about, and in retrospect, they were the things that mattered the most. (Some of the other things mentioned for our kids weren’t really relevant back in the day.)

    Just yesterday, I was talking to my 5th grader about social media, texting, and how nothing ever goes away. He thought it was “gross” and “stupid” that anyone would ever send naked photos to anyone of course, but better to teach the lesson before it is tempting I suppose. Like Swim, DH was telling him that this was the type of mistake that couldn’t be taken back and that we cannot help him with – and the punishment could be very severe.

  30. A lot of good advice here and I just hear many of the same themes about respect, kindness and being nice during the speeches from parents to their kids at bar/bat mitzvahs. My SIL did a top ten list for my nephew because he loves ESPN lists and she had some great advice about friendships, being kind, helping others etc etc.

    My DD was upset about constant chatter today in the school cafeteria about a super bowl party that she was not invited to attend. I tried to turn this around, and to ask her to remember how she felt about being excluded, and their endless discussion because I know that she has done this sometimes when she was invited.

    We hit the advice jackpot today with DD because the school distributed report cards today. Her grades for the 2nd quarter were awesome (totebag brag) after a rocky start in the first quarter of HS. We spent days in November trying to tell her that she could improve her grades if she would study even when homework was not assigned. I think she was still in the MS mode of coasting through school, but she hit a roadblock in HS because she is in several honors classes, and all of the teachers in HS have much higher expectations of the students if you want to earn an A. She did this work on her own, and we didn’t even have to remind her to study because she just got into a new routine with studying.

  31. @Lauren — that’s great! Congrats to your DD’s growing maturity.

    “My drivers ed teacher always said that if a ball rolled in to the street to expect a child to follow it.”

    And whenever you see one deer, there are always others you can’t.

  32. “You’re much more likely to regret the things you don’t do than the things you do.”

    Whether this is good advice really depends on the person receiving the advice.

    E.g., it may not be good advice for someone with poor impulse control. OTOH, it may be very good for someone tending toward analysis paralysis.

  33. “’You’re much more likely to regret the things you don’t do than the things you do.’

    Whether this is good advice really depends on the person receiving the advice.

    E.g., it may not be good advice for someone with poor impulse control. OTOH, it may be very good for someone tending toward analysis paralysis.”

    This is exactly the advice my stepmom gave me when I was dithering over the Porsche. Which, I think, goes to prove Finn’s point. ;-)

  34. Yeah, Finn’s point applies neatly to sending out those nude pix to your trustworthy boyfriend.

  35. My dad always said to marry your best friend. I am very happy that I did that.

    I hope to teach my white boys is that to be silent is to be complicit. I want them to be brave to speak out for others less fortunate.

  36. “I like to talk, your dad likes to listen. When you find someone who likes to listen as much as you like to talk, keep them around.”

    This, for the child who takes after me. We will see if it sticks.

  37. Take care of your teeth !
    My Mom regularly took me to the dentist till middle school but I didn’t take care of my teeth in my late teens. So, I had a lot of dental work in my twenties. I think Totebagger kids are still in the parental orbit as far as health care is concerned so there won’t be a steep drop off like it was for me.

  38. “Take care of your teeth !”

    +1000 (especially if you include gums)

    I’ve recently had a lot of tooth problems, some of which may be related to not taking as good care of them as I could’ve when I was younger.

    And dental health is strongly correlated to overall health. I’m not sure if causality has been established, but I’ve heard reasonable theories that poor dental health can lead to inflammation that can cause strokes and heart attacks.

  39. I love Ada’s advice.

    My dad gave me a lot of “life lessons”. However a lot of my behaviors weren’t from spoken advice. I didn’t want to disappoint him, I wanted him to be proud. And I also noticed that my mom is an introvert and my dad is an extrovert. My introvert self managed to snag the extrovert which has worked out well for us.

  40. Interesting about the talker/listener pairs. DH loves to talk, and I’m definitely a listener. It does work well for us as a couple. OTOH, as a family of four, we’re unbalanced, as both kids got DH’s talker genes. It can be hard for me to get a word in edgewise at the dinner table.

  41. My mother was trapped in a marriage and couldn’t support herself. Her parents died when she was 19, and she had gotten married at 18. She was insistent that my sister and I always be able to support ourselves and our kids so we would never, ever find ourselves in that situation. My sister’s ex was a SAHD before they got divorced and my DH had to stop working because of medical issues.

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